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Secret Prisoner Code Words You Have To Know If You Don't Want To Be A Dead Fish

Updated March 21, 2019 5.9k votes 1.3k voters 606.7k views13 items

List RulesConvicts, ex-convicts, and guards only: Vote up the slang terms that are actually used in prisons.

"That brake fluid has been making my celly hella cranky. Wouldn't be surprised if he went dancing on the blacktop." Say what? The secret language of prisoners isn't really common knowledge for those who haven't been thrown in the slammer. If you're a fish (someone newly incarcerated), you'd better learn quickly so as to avoid a major dispute.

Cryptolects and prison code words have evolved through the ages. In the 1500s, secret prisoner languages were referred to as "thieves' cant" or "peddlers' French," but codes aren't just for prisoners: Everyone from Parisian escorts to dope peddlers to hobos has crafted their own communication methods to hide the nature of their business. 

What do prison slang words mean? Here's a handy guide in case you ever find yourself facing the long arm of the law.

  • 1


    Photo: Falkenpost / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

    Meaning: If you were a teen girl in the early '00s, there's a pretty good chance you used some incarnation of this phrase on your AOL Instant Messenger away message, probably to the effect of "Away at the mall with Katie. Hit me on my celly!" It was the golden age of RAZR phones and cheeky nicknames. However, the phrase means something very different for prison inmates. According to those in the know, "celly" - or "cellie" - is slang for cellmate. 

    Use It In A Sentence: "My celly is my best friend; take it up with me if you have issues with him."

    Is this real lingo from behind bars?
  • 2

    Diaper Sniper

    Diaper Sniper
    Photo: Unknown / PXHere / CC0 1.0

    Meaning: This slang phrase is even more grotesque than it sounds. In prison life, a diaper sniper is a child molester. According to Margot Bach, who spoke to ABC on behalf of the California Department of Corrections, taking out a diaper sniper "would gain [the killer] a lot more respect among the other inmates."

    Use It In A Sentence: "That diaper sniper is going to be dancing on the blacktop."

    Is this real lingo from behind bars?
  • 3


    Photo: Fifaliana / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

    Meaning: There are plenty of fish in the sea, especially in areas with rising crime rates. "Fish" refers to a brand new prisoner. A fish doesn't yet understand how to avoid stepping on their fellow convicts' toes, but they had better learn quickly.

    Use It In A Sentence: "Saw a few fish fly in on the bus this morning."

    Is this real lingo from behind bars?
  • 4

    Permanent Pocket

    Permanent Pocket
    Photo: Cultivate_Oxford / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Meaning: When you're brought into a prison, your entire body is searched. This means you can't hide anything in the pocket of your jeans. Luckily enough, bodies were made with a pocket of their own: an anus. A "permanent pocket" - sometimes called a "prison pocket" - is someone's butt.

    Use It In A Sentence: "Tito stashed the dough in his permanent pocket."

    Is this real lingo from behind bars?